Graptus woke up and for a few moments believed that he was still in warm, sunny Rome. He’d been dreaming of the house he’d bought just after he was freed, he could almost smell the roses in garden. Then the cold and damp of the air surrounding his sleeping place crept in on him and with them came his memories. He looked around the circular, dark hut which was what these benighted natives called a house, and saw his companions in various stages of wakefulness. Oh well, he thought, time to start another day. The sooner they got the job done the sooner he could return to Rome and get back to his old life. He reached out and found the metal strong box that was beside him, his hand groping along the edge to make sure that the lock was still intact. He patted it reassuringly when all was as expected. He’d been given a great responsibility when Hadrian had instructed him to stay behind and build roads. He respected his Emperor for trying to keep the peace by improving the infrastructure of the provinces, but he would rather not be the one to be left in this soggy, foggy, backwater of the Empire. He gave thanks to Sors, Goddess Fortuna’s son, that at least he wasn’t one of those who had to supervise the building of that enormous wall in the far North. If it was cold and damp here what must it be like even further North on this day so close to the shortest of the year? He shuddered involuntarily as he imagined the snow being driven down necks and up sleeves by the fearsome wind. It had been bad enough when he’d accompanied Hadrian on his inspection tour that summer, just before the Emperor had returned to Rome.
As he roused his small team of surveyors and engineers he wondered once again about the best way of guarding the strong box and its valuable contents. As a Freedman with orders direct from Emperor Hadrian himself he wielded a lot of influence, or he would have done in Rome or one of the more civilised provinces. Here he wasn’t so sure, and he had caught some of the slaves eyeing up the box, and him, and he wasn’t reassured by their expressions. The native tribes didn’t seem to understand the concept of someone who had once been a slave holding a position of power either. Sometimes it seemed that things hadn’t moved on so far from when the British laughed at the thought of Polyclitus giving orders to the general and his army, even though Nero himself had sent Polyclitus to pacify the region after Boudicca’s rebellion. Graptus was fairly certain that the hut so grudgingly built for them to use as their combined headquarters and lodgings leaked and had draughts like no other. He’d passed other round houses on their way here and the construction seemed different to his engineer’s eye.
Well, at least he was only here to build roads to carry the iron ore out of this wild region, not quell a rebellion. As an engineer he knew what he was doing with digging ore out of the ground, smelting it to extract iron, and build roads to carry it East out of this wild and heavily forested region, to the harbours and the ships waiting to carry it back to Rome – or wherever it was needed in the Empire. Holes and roads, they were what he was good at. Hm. Holes. Maybe he had the answer to keeping his strong box safe after all. If he was canny he could kill two birds with one stone – build them somewhere warm and dry to sleep at night and keep the treasure chest secure. Yes, he thought, they had all the right ingredients; clay, charcoal, water and some handy kilns.
Japp dreamt that he was asleep in his bed at home. He must have left the radio on, he thought, as it was noisier than usual. Then the radio started talking to him. That’s strange, he thought, why is Corrie Corfield saying my name over and over? Shouldn’t she be reading out the news instead? And why doesn’t she sound like her normal self? Eventually he became aware of his shoulder being touched gently, then shaken increasingly vigorously. After a while Japp found it was easier to wake up, even though he would far rather have carried on sleeping.
The hospital seemed quieter than when he’d gone to sleep, and he realised that he must have slept most of the afternoon away. He looked up at the nurse who had been sent to wake him up. He looked tired, and Japp wondered if he was nearing the end of his shift.
‘Ms Farquharson is out of surgery. She’s been awake for a while and everything seems fine, her brother is with her now. He said to leave you sleeping a bit longer, to give him time to talk to her on his own.’
Japp felt a little miffed that he’d not been woken up straight away, but couldn’t begrudge Arthur some time alone with his sister. After all, it was only Japp’s status as an investigating police officer that meant he was going to be allowed to bypass the usual family only visiting rule. Japp nodded his thanks, stood, stretched and yawned, then walked up the ward to Martha’s bedside. Arthur and Martha both turned and smiled at him as he walked up the ward, and once again Japp felt grateful that Arthur was here and not in some cell at the police station awaiting questioning. He had a feeling that Martha could be quite stern if she wanted to be and that wasn’t a side of her he wanted to discover. He somehow felt the need to remain in her good books.
The twins were very alike facially, although they had very different colouring. Martha was darker haired and slender, around 5’4” in height. Arthur was much fairer skinned and had blond hair. He was a little shorter than Japp, but not by much, at 6’2” and was also slim, but in a way that hinted at great strength and stamina. As Japp reached the bedside Martha nodded at Arthur and he reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a carefully rolled up plastic wallet, and handed it to Japp. As he took it he noticed that it had the remains of duct tape around the edges, and unrolling it revealed that it contained a single manila envelope.
He looked at the twins, totally bemused. Martha started to explain, with Arthur chipping in from time to time.
‘When I was in the Frensham’s house I wondered why the carpet had been cut up, so I crawled around pulling up the edges, to see if there was anything under there. It seemed odd, that it had been cut up just where I’d seen Mary Frensham staring at it. Well anyway, there wasn’t anything there anymore, but there were sticky marks on the floorboards that could have been made by this wallet having been taped in place there, and then ripped up again.
While I was crawling around and giving you directions to the house I noticed this wallet with the envelope in it stuck under the coffee table, so I rolled underneath to get it…’
‘And that’s when the house exploded…’
‘Yes, that’s when the house exploded. I’d been on my back, trying to unstick this, and I’d already dropped my phone because I didn’t have a good enough grip on it when everything collapsed, so I rolled it up and put it under my shirt so it wouldn’t get lost if I passed out…’
‘Yes, thank you, Arthur, let me finish!’
At this she made a motion imitating slapping the back of his head in reproof, but they were both grinning at each other, obviously immensely glad to be back in each other’s company and knowing that Martha was safely out of the operating theatre. Arthur bowed his head in acknowledgement and waved for Martha to carry on.
‘Anyway. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I still had it on me when we were in the ambulance, so I passed it to Arthur to keep safe and pass it to you, because I was worried it would get chucked to one side while they were treating me and it would get lost, but my idiot brother…’
‘My idiot brother was so worried about me that he completely forgot about it until I asked him if he had given it to you yet.’
‘Which was when we asked the nurse if he’d mind waking you up.’
‘So we asked the very kind nurse if he would go and find you on his way off shift, so I could make sure that it got to you safe and sound.’
As he saw them so happy together Japp realised that Martha probably didn’t know anything about the other explosion yet. Their phone call had been cut off before he had been able to tell her, and he doubted very much that any of the fire crew or paramedics would have mentioned it to her. They would have been concentrating on getting her out, and they wouldn’t have wanted to upset her in any way. The opposite, in fact, as they’d have been focused on keeping her as calm as possible. There was a time and a place, Japp thought, and now isn’t it. Martha should be allowed to get better without being made to feel guilty that she had survived when others hadn’t. At least for now. It wouldn’t be possible to keep it from her for ever, but for now. As he looked across the bed at Arthur, standing on the far side, he saw Martha’s brother looking at him and saw that he had had exactly the same thought. They gave each other a barely perceptible nod of understanding, and Japp turned his attention back to the envelope.
He pulled it out of the wallet, turned it over and saw that it was addressed to him, care of the Ashford Police Station. He looked up at the twins, but they just shrugged, no wiser than he was about what it had been doing under the Frensham’s gloriously sturdy coffee table. He ripped open the end and pulled out several sheets of paper. A couple looked like they were photocopies of sections of a map, a couple were copies of what looked like an old document, and one was a note addressed to Japp, written on the back of an old invoice.
It was fairly short, but to the point;
After Martha and DI Bacon left this afternoon Mary told me everything. I hope you will come looking and find this after someone works out we’ve gone. We’re leaving you copies of Mary’s map, and the riddles written on the back in case it helps. We know what the burglars were after, but we haven’t copied that for you. I’m not writing down what Mary told me either, in case it falls into the wrong hands. I have to make sure Mary and Maddy are safe first, then I’ll contact you. Don’t trust anyone except the Farquharsons. I’ll let you know the rest as soon as I can.